What can we learn from entropy and how does it apply to human behavior?
Entropy is a term central to the second law of thermodynamics and can be scientifically described as a "measure of the unavailability of a system's energy to do work." It is a derivative of a Greek word translated as "a turning toward" and Webster's Online Dictionary offers a broader definition of entropy as "a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder."
Can we possibly avoid turning toward degradation and disorder in our lives?
"Question: Who governs the governors? Answer: Entropy." ~ Frank Herbert
The inspiration for this post comes from a recent book I read called, Leadership is an Art, where entropy is creatively employed by the author, Max De Pree, as the tendency toward deterioration from within the corporate structure. De Pree urged leaders in organizations, his corporate clients, to stop entropic activities -- to "intercept entropy."
My only disappointment with De Pree's idea is that he did not expand on the interception of entropy as a broader human condition that extends far beyond the work place and into all areas of our lives; therefore, I will take the interception farther...
"Entropy is the normal state of consciousness -- a condition that is neither useful nor enjoyable." ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
A common scientific example of entropy is the melting of ice: As an ice cube melts, it changes states. To change states, the ice cube's molecules must increase in activity. This increase is an increase in disorder -- an increase in entropy. It is important to note, however, that energy is used to melt the ice but no work is done -- so it may be considered useless energy.
"Only entropy comes easy." ~ Anton Chekhov
Much like entropic activity in physical science, human behavior also has a tendency toward useless energy that may come in the forms of apathy, complacency and inertia just to name a few.
The key observation to make at this point is that humans are not ice cubes. We have been blessed with intellectual faculties that provide the capacity to alter our own course -- albeit at a slow and deliberate pace -- we have a mind that is more powerful than the brain -- we have the ability to make choices and changes -- our activity need not be useless.
The challenge with intercepting entropy is that most of our useless energy essentially comes in the form of bad habits that have become automatic and of which we are unaware; therefore, we may define our term as such:
The Interception of Entropy = awareness of (and subsequent mindful attention to) the existence, causes and prevention of entropic activity. In simple terms, the interception of entropy is learning good habits and unlearning bad ones.
Of course, the awareness of the existence of entropy in an individual's life is up to the individual. Once this awareness exists (hopefully with the aid of this post) most of the work is done and we may see more clearly entropy's causes and effects:
- Media noise
- Social conventions
- Ignorance of Ignorance
- Resistance to change
- Strict adherence to plans
- Absolute submission
- Absolute aggression
- Following the path of least resistance
- The thinking that more equals more and less equals less
- Yielding to political correctness
- Yielding to influences from external sources
- Placing money and social status ahead of principles
- Prioritizing price higher than value
- Failure to find meaning in mistakes and suffering
- and witnessing evil while doing nothing...
Can you think of others?
I see entropy as a natural occurrence; however, our natural tendencies as humans and individual personalities are not always conducive to our well-being. The natural path is not the same as the chosen path -- the prior is by default, the latter is by choice.
I see entropy as part of the larger struggle of mind vs. brain -- without mindful attention to our condition, we may just end up where we are heading, and that may be for the better or for the worse...